Tag Archives: genre fiction

Reader Audiences Matter Most: To whom are you appealing?

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The question in the title of this post can’t always be answered.

This is not a book review, but I am taking the liberty to use The Goldfinch to make some of my points. I’m only a little more than halfway finished with this book and I usually don’t look at other reviews until I have completed the book and written my own review when I do book reviews for indie authors. I did read some of the reviews for this book when I approached the halfway mark, because I wasn’t certain I wanted to continue. I have mixed feelings. It’s well-written, and then it’s not. I’ll try to explain.

I read across many genres, and seldom post book reviews for traditionally published books. Gone Girl, The Girl of the Train, Fifty Shades, The Fault in Our Stars and other such reads, have garnered so much attention I feel less compelled to promote them. I mostly provide reviews to promote Indies that I feel I can recommend.

I’ve brought up the issue of commercial fiction versus literary fiction before. I know there are some authors who cross-over exceptionally well and have become quite popular up-market authors.

Annie Neugebauer has a nifty article here explaining the differences and providing some examples:

http://annieneugebauer.com/2014/01/27/the-differences-between-commercial-and-literary-fiction/

Her key points (which are debatable) are as follows:

1.

The aim of commercial fiction is entertainment.

The aim of literary fiction is art.

 

2.

In commercial fiction, the protagonist does the work.

In literary fiction, the reader does the work.

  

3.

In commercial fiction, the writing style is clean and pared-down.

In literary fiction, the writing style takes more risks.

  

4.

The main character of commercial fiction aims to be likable to the reader.

The main character of literary fiction aims to reveal the human condition.

  

5.

Commercial fiction follows genre precepts.

Literary fiction toys with genre precepts.

Granted, there is commercial genre fiction that has aspects of literary fiction, and literary fiction which has aspects of commercial genre appeal, but I think Annie does well to summarize these.

A side note here from SoIReadThisBookToday : http://soireadthisbooktoday.com/2015/02/07/they-are-watching-what-you-read/ Is that much of what is marketed and sold digitally actually isn’t read in the digital form of the most popular books. “With Gone Girl, the third most purchased book at Kobo, only 46 percent of the readers who purchased the book made it to the end. Fifty Shades of Gray? Only 48 percent could stomach it all the way through. The most popular French book, in terms of sales, shows “Le Suicide Français,” may have been a runaway hit in terms of sales, but just 7 percent of Kobo’s French readers made it through the book’s conclusion.”

That tells me that just because a book is trendy, doesn’t mean it was all that well received by the audience.

This doesn’t take into account paper copies sold. I’m still not sure about reviews. Seems like people who really love a book or really hate it are most likely to leave a review. Of course the trendier books will have more positive reviews.

Which brings me back to The Goldfinch, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

(19,812) Total reviews on Amazon

3.7 out of 5 stars

5 star

8,171

 

4 star

4,152

 

3 star

3,402

 

2 star

2,175

 

1 star

1,912

 

Now this book stayed on the Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers list for months last year. (Long before it became a Pulitzer Prize.) There are reviews posted everywhere. There are even full length books being sold that analyze this piece of work.

It does seem to be one of those books that crosses over to up-market fiction.

It’s artful.

Both the reader and the protagonist have to do some of the work.

The writing style is certainly risky.

There is a great focus on the human condition.

And it does follow genre precepts (primarily mystery novel).

Here’s the deal though: It is the very thing that editors are telling us all the time simply doesn’t work.

Apparently it does.

It is also 755 pages long.

As part of her Indie Authors Series , Jodie Renner tells us:  How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% – and tighten your story without losing any of the good stuff!

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/how-to-slash-your-word-count-by-20-40.html

Is your manuscript too long?

  • Do you have a meandering, overly wordy writing style? If so, you’ll need to tighten it up by cutting all unnecessary words.
  • Do you have long descriptions of the setting or characters, or lengthy character backstory?
  • Are there any scenes that drag, lack in tension and intrigue, or just don’t drive the story forward?
  • Have you or others noticed repetitions of various kinds (imagery, plot points, ideas, descriptions, phrases, words)?
  • In general, can your scenes, paragraphs and sentences be leaner?

 

She goes on to say that you have to “earn your right to write long”. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I think it is more a matter of style and what the reader prefers.

 

Most genre commercial fiction and much of what I read that was written by indie authors follows Jodie’s points. These, for the most part, are easy reads. They appeal to a modern audience that wants fast everything. But if you are looking for deeply thought-provoking literature, you are probably not going to find it in a pared down version of a story.

 

The Goldfinch is reminiscent of the greatest literature I have ever read. Jodie Renner, as an editor, would have had a field day with it. And, yet, I see her points. The Goldfinch could have probably been cut of a good 250 to 300 pages and been a much tighter, more readable novel without loosing either that value of the prose or content of the story.

 I am having a Love:Hate relationship with this book. I hope I am able to finish it.

Donna Tartt is inspired by magic, beauty in the everyday, and love…no matter what. The Goldfinch is infused with adventure, love of life, and great souls. There are wonderful passages of clever, artful prose. It appeals to my heart, spirit, and mind.

However, there is stream of consciousness that meanders all over the pages, often not making any point at all relevant to the crux of the story being told. There are miles-long sentences filled with colons, semi-colons, multiple commas that drag through entire paragraphs and will make you cringe and scream. I would like to think there is some masterful symbolism here, but it’s buried deep.

I’m 100% positive that she had to have an exclusive editor that could deeply appreciate her prose.

It all boils down to what audience you are appealing to as an author.

Do you ever really know?

I’ll keep writing my genre fiction crime novel series and maintain that bare bones writing style, but I’m not giving up on my philosophical, artful prose just yet. Maybe with enough practice in both styles, I’ll someday be a popular cross over, up-market author. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s fun to dream.

I don’t envy the parts of The Goldfinch that make me cringe and want to scream, but I do admire that Donna Tartt had the guts to write until her heart was content and put it out here for a reader audience to enjoy.

That Was Then, This Is Now, And Then There’s Tomorrow

I have been reading a lot of commercial genre fiction lately. I’m not knocking it. It serves a purpose, to entertain, but sometimes you just need something deeper. A more cerebral read, not heavy, but profound.

It is a challenge to find a book like that. Contemporary fiction often does not appeal to me…it’s too much of real life problems and miseries of everyday living. The classics are always good, but when you have read so many of them, you need something fresh. Contemporary literary fiction with excellent prose is hard to find these days.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I spent some time in my youth on a pot farm in the middle of the North Georgia Mountains. Those were my hippie days. Being emancipated at the age of fifteen after living in foster care and an orphanage for most of my childhood the communal lifestyle was appealing to me. I hung out with a little older crowd.

I had friends I’ll probably never see again, except maybe on Facebook: Jimmy and Mike Bullington, David Hanson, Leigh Ann Jennings, Anne and Stephen Liner, Chris Mobbs, Sheila Reddin (the Sherriff’s daughter) Kevin (deceased), Bryan, and David Hutto. (Was briefly married to one of those.) The names are not so important, but our lives were enmeshed during a most enlightening era.

You seriously have to lose the notion of sex, drugs, and rock and roll being the dominating factors if you want to truly understand that time period and how it influenced so much of what this generation was…, no, is. Not that those elements were not, at least loosely, associated with that experience of coming of age, but they weren’t the be-all, end-all of it. Most of us lived on the fringes. It was a magical time in more ways than one.

What was most significant was the coming of age in a time period that allowed all of us the freedom to develop relationships and make mistakes that promoted a development of ideals without having to be directly taught what those ideals should or should not be. It was a wild time, yet a humanity managed to emerge that ushered in a gentler devotion to nature, peace, love and accepting the differences that exist in all of us, that make us wonderfully unique, and yet one.

There is a blogger who published a book a couple of years ago. His name is Mike Grant. He’s a quiet, laid back, older fellow who posts on occasion, but not often. When he has something to say, it is usually quite insightful, so I ventured to read his book. I was a little wary when I read the book description, (which I now feel does not do the book justice, I’ll say), and saw no reviews on Amazon and only a couple on Goodreads. I found a couple online and they were all positive. Then I read the Look Inside. I was hooked on reading the introduction. This is a book everyone from age 20 to 80 should read.

Tomorrow I will post my review of his exceptionally well-written book, “White Wolf Moon”.

Mike’s an old hippie, like me, and he told my story in 2012, before we ever had chance to meet online. I won’t tell you which character I was, but it’s all there. I went on to become a yuppie, and eventually evolved into a city dweller, but some things you just never forget. More than my story, in his wisdom, he tells the story of generations yet to come.

Have you ever found a book you could relate to so well you could swear someone spied on you?

Maybe they reached inside and tapped your soul?

Beginning Against the Grain

It seems like so many authors are striving to make their novel read like a television episode these days.

There was once a time when novels were made into shortened versions for television or movies that hit on the highlights of the book. Now books seem so tightened that they read like a television episode. Editors are queuing books to read like every other book.

Call me a rebel, but I am not sure if I like this change in literature. There seems to be so much lost in it.

Classics were often written with vast amounts of exposition that made us reflect over politics and the nature of humankind. Now there are forced action scenes and dialog on every page.

I have heard some editors tell authors that we must cater to an ADD/ADHD society that has a short attention span. Probably the result of copious amounts of television.

Rising action, climax, falling, and a resolution…over and over again take precedence over having any exposition at all. Start it moving and keep it moving. We have loped off the beginning of our books trying to be like all the other books.

plot

“Jane Eyre”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “A Tale of Two Cities”…just a few of my favorites. There are things the authors did that you don’t see often in popular fiction.

I have read a few quick crime novels and romance novels in the past few months. I honestly did not like them well enough to offer a review. Important elements in the initial situations were missing. The action started before I could care about the characters or their life situations.

Initial Situation

i: Characters: Who are the central characters?  What do they aspire to?
ii. Setting: Where/when do the characters live? Does the setting contribute to the narrative?
iii. Conflicts: What are the challenges facing the protagonist(s)? What are the conflict(s) that he or she (or they) will have to overcome?

The beginning is often called the introduction or exposition. By establishing the characters, setting and initial conflicts, the beginning “sets the scene” for the rest of the narrative. Dickens’ famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a classic piece of exposition that helps establish the social and political background of the novel.

Dicken’s set the theme with one sentence. I am not asking for three chapters (though sometimes that is actually nice IMHO), but at least give me that much.

I don’t like the direction contemporary literature seems to be going. It is the vast quantity that sells. The mass marketing television episodes of genre fiction.

I watch very little television for a reason. Give me something interesting to read, not a carbon copy of every other novel out there.